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SportsColumnistsBob Glauber

Rooney Rule still has its place

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin walks on

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin walks on the sidelines in the fourth quarter during an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins. (January 3, 2010) Photo Credit: AP

The NFL's Rooney Rule, which requires each team to interview at least one minority candidate for all head-coaching vacancies and top football administrator posts, has come under fire in recent weeks after the hiring of Mike Shanahan in Washington and Pete Carroll in Seattle.

The Redskins and Seahawks clearly had settled on both coaches and gave only token interviews to minority candidates Jerry Gray (Washington) and Leslie Frazier (Seattle). But that doesn't mean the rule should be eliminated just yet.

After all, there is a good chance that Frazier will wind up as the Bills' next head coach, in part because there now is a mind-set among enough NFL owners to widen their focus in coaching searches. But as former Giants linebacker Harry Carson told me, you can't force owners to hire minority candidates or even consider them as viable alternatives.

"There are going to be people who are going to find ways to circumvent the situation, and we are very much aware of that," said Carson, executive director of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, an organization committed to improving opportunities for minority coaches in the NFL and colleges. "Is there a lot that we can do about that? No. People are going to find ways to get around it. Do we like it? No. But it is what it is."

Best-case scenario: Teams conduct an open search similar to the one by the owner the Rooney Rule in named after. In 2007, Steelers president Dan Rooney was close to hiring offensive line coach Russ Grimm but instead opted for Vikings defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin to succeed Bill Cowher. Last February, Tomlin won Super Bowl XLIII.

"We'd like for it to be a fully ethical and open discussion about possible candidates," Carson said. "Are we going to get that all the time? No."

But that doesn't mean the rule needs to be eliminated. Keeping the heat on owners to consider all options during head-coaching searches still is a worthwhile idea. And it's reinforced by the fact that several minority coaches and general managers have enjoyed success in recent years. That includes Giants general manager Jerry Reese and Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome, both of whom won Super Bowls, and Super Bowl-winning head coaches Tomlin and Tony Dungy.

There's no guarantee the Redskins and Seahawks made the right calls by rushing to hire Shanahan and Carroll. In Shanahan's case, he's fighting history: no coach who won a Super Bowl with one team ever has gone on to win one with another. And that includes such brilliant sideline bosses as Vince Lombardi, Bill Parcells and George Seifert.

Carroll is fighting history, too; he was fired in his previous two NFL head-coaching spots by the Jets and Patriots.

"I understand that owners will have preferences, and that's fine," Carson said. "The idea is to consider options, and that's all we're looking for."

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